Best of 2013

Movies

5. Monsters University – I’m still not entirely thrilled about the slump that Pixar is now taking, coincidentally lining up with the timeframe of their Disney buyout.  But Monsters University was at least in the ballpark of Toy Story 2 as a good Pixar sequel, so I’m hopeful again for the future.

4. The Great Gatsby – This was admittedly a little uneven in terms of tone, but I think the raucous atmosphere in contrast to the conveyance of emptiness was a great message that applies again today.  (I suppose a cool modern soundtrack didn’t help with that either.)  Also, Leo DiCaprio must have stolen a girlfriend or secretly murdered an Academy member, because he’s long, long overdue for an Oscar.

3. The World’s End – I still can’t decide between Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz as my favorite of this trilogy, but World’s End was still a great conclusion.  I’m still not totally cool with the idea of making the clear protagonist of the past two films a intolerable anti-hero in this one, nor did I really feel comfortable with the tacked on ending, but it’s still the same brand of insanely awesome British sci-fi comedy that I loved from the first two.

2. The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug – Here’s my problem with the Hobbit movies as compared to Lord of the Rings.  You can judge each Lord of the Rings movie separately, as they’re all obviously each their own book. The Hobbit is not only cut into three pieces, but it also has a bunch of The Silmarillion, The Lost Tales, and Lord of the Rings appendices thrown on top.

That said, I still don’t think I can judge it fairly until part three is out in 2014.  I’ll withhold my full judgement until then, but I will at least say that both parts I’ve seen so far are exactly the more lighthearted and fun trip through Middle Earth that I expected for the past decade.

247813id1h_Ver1_Gravity_2ndLook_27x40_1Sheet.indd1. Gravity – I really debated ranking this as the top movie of the year, but something struck me.  No one can ever replicate the experience that this movie offers anywhere else but an actual movie theater.  You can put on a 4K copy of this on the biggest TV you can find with totally immersive surround sound, but you can’t in any way replicate the 3D experience that this provides for in a theater.  Avatar is no longer the go-to movie that provides an excuse for the technology.

As a movie, it’s only just “pretty good.”  It’s basically an hour and a half action set-piece with a few egregious plotholes.  But damned if it still isn’t entertaining.  It’s an awesome and simple plot that’s made incredibly awesome by insanely awesome technology and masterful storytelling.

TV Shows

5. America’s Got Talent – Don’t laugh.  Yes, it’s overproduced, manipulative, and probably rigged in some aspect.  But at a time when nothing else is really good on broadcast TV in the summertime, this is a really entertaining show.  I probably wouldn’t recommend it if it weren’t for the presence of Howard Stern that often bites the hand that feeds him and calls NBC and the producers of the show on their BS, which keeps them at least partially honest.  But that said, it’s still a fun show with a lot of different kinds of entertainment that still hasn’t grown old.

4. Mad Men – This was a really weird year for my favorite show.  In 2012, the show had a stretch of about four episodes that was probably the best episodic television ever produced.  This year, it seemed like they were focusing more time on setting up the last season as opposed to making a great current season.  I’m sure that it will ultimately make for a more satisfying whole, but it was difficult to sit through the setup without hearing the punchline this year.

3. Star Trek: Next Generation – Okay, bear with me.  Yes, I’m picking a show that’s over 25 years old, and one I’m sure that most of us have seen virtually every episode of at least twice.  But in the past year in which I watched a lot of it over again, I realized what an absolutely brilliant show it is.  I’m not a Trekkie by any means, and have no idea nor really care about all of the technical details surrounding Trek technology or lore.  But Next Generation is far and away my favorite television show ever, just by nature of the brilliant and thought provoking stories that it tells, and I fell in love with it all over again this year.

2. Breaking Bad – There’s not really a lot that I could say about Breaking Bad that hasn’t already been said by tons of critics and writers elsewhere.  The one thing I will add is that as opposed to finales of other shows that tried something metaphysical or overly metaphorical (Lost, Battlestar Galactica), it lowered its sights and went for a clean cut conclusion.  Time will judge the writers really, really well for that.

i-c661b0e66f275ea837a3b449d371a05f-house-of-cards1. House of Cards – I could easily say that one reason I ranked this as the top is because of the huge sea-change that Neflix caused this year, but that could easily also be attributed to something like Orange is the New Black, which was also great.  But House of Cards was so good because it wasn’t just of HBO quality, it surpassed even that.  The writing and cinematography were something that would be factors in a Best Picture nominee if it were a movie.  And God bless Kevin Spacey, not only was he one of the most memorable leads ever, but he believes in the format and has been making a point to actively advocate for it.

Also, since I’m reviewing 2013 from a personal context, I’ll share a true story: We totally ran into Robin Wright at the airport this year, but I was way too shy to talk to her that we both loved House of Cards and Forrest Gump for obvious reasons.

Music

5. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories – I think I really only really liked three or four tracks of this album, but they were continual repeats on the soundtrack of the summer.  One of my favorite memories of this year is being happily woken up to “Doin’ It Right” coming from the tent next door at Bonnaroo.

4. David Bowie – The Next Day – Kind of the opposite with this album.  There’s no single track that I can point out that are my favorites from it, but the work as a whole is something really special.  It’d be really more special if Bowie would drop the “silent” personna he’s taking on currently and go on tour so I can finally see him live.

3. Reptar – Body Faucet – I hadn’t even heard of this band until a few months before Bonnaroo, but I’m so glad that I got to know them in time to go see them live there.  It’s hard to fully explain their sound, but the best I can offer is a mix of Talking Heads and Arcade Fire if they happened to form in the early 90′s.  There’s really no other artist or genre to compare them to, and I love them for it.  Reptar has the kind of fun and inventive music that makes me want to make more of it and be a part of it.

2. Arcade Fire – Reflektor – I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Reflektor hasn’t yet really sunk into me and made the same kind of impression as The Suburbs did.  Arcade Fire is absolutely still my favorite band in the world at the moment, and their new album does nothing to detract from that.  It’s different in a great way, but I don’t think I’ve occupied the same space as the band has yet.

The Haiti-influenced dance vibe is a lot of fun and makes for some incredible tracks (Hey Orpheous, Here Comes The Nighttime), but for me personally they’re only that.  They don’t necessarily strike an emotional chord for me in the same way that songs from The Suburbs did, almost solely because I can’t find myself relating as emotionally or as deeply.  But again, that’s not to criticize something that’s still an incredible output from the most brilliant band performing today.

Vampire-Weekend-Modern-Vampires-Of-The-City1. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City – On the other hand, this has absolutely resonated with me.  I shouldn’t pretend that it doesn’t have anything to do with me turning 30 next year, because the reflections that I see in my own thinking along with the lyrics of this album are almost frightening.

Pairing reflections and stories with that mindset along with truly new and inventive chord progressions and sounds is a killer combination and takes Vampire Weekend outside of the realm of hipster guilty pleasure into a truly mainstream and great band.

Video Games

5. The Walking Dead – I’m not personally a fan of point and click style adventure games, but even I couldn’t deny the storytelling power of this game.  Putting a player in the position of making the same style of horrifically difficult choices that are prevalent in the show and comic is a really memorable experience, and far surpasses the similar efforts of many other traditional games.

4. Tomb Raider – I rented this from a Redbox earlier in the year as a weekend distraction and didn’t really expect to like it as much, as I’ve only been so-so fans of prior games in the series.  Turning it into a exploratory horror-survival adventure game was a really great move, and I loved it for it.

3. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 – Okay honestly, this is really not that great of a game if you look at the premise and history.  It’s a cookie cutter sequel produced by an overworked studio.  It’s mainly only an exercise in marketing and commercialism.  There’s probably little actually new in it from a storytelling or technical perspective. But even with all of the above, I probably spent more time with it in the multiplayer than any other game in 2013.  Learning every nook, cranny, and trick with every map and gun is a really satisfying experience.  If it’s okay to have guilty pleasures with movies and TV shows, it’s okay to have them with games too, right?

2. Bioshock Infinite – Like Breaking Bad earlier in this whole rundown, there’s really not much else I can really say about this that hasn’t already been said.  Again, I’ll just offer a small input of my own.  I’m not a huge fan of the game mechanics of the Bioshock series, but the storytelling more than makes up for it.  If it were a movie, it seems like the kind that Pixar would make if they decided to make something far more adult.  Even though the game itself feels clunky and boring at some points to me personally, I can’t deny the achievement of the overall experience.

images1. Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds – In a year when most bits and ink were spent on the launch of the new XBox and Playstation, the forgotten Nintendo 3DS finally found a few of its killer apps.  It’s amazing that its starting to gain traction and become a formidable mobile platform, amongst the same environment of 99 cent iPhone games.

The new Zelda itself is a small miracle.  Somehow it manages to combine modern aesthetics and game design with a uniquely retro package.  Look at it in trailers or videos and it may seem like a simple update and sequel to the original SNES game.  Play it more than an hour and it becomes obvious that this is a big gameplay reboot for the entire Zelda series.  Dungeons, items, and progression are completely rethought and for the better.  It makes for the best experience of the year, and hopefully one that carries into future Zelda games.


I Dropped The Mac, And Haven’t Looked Back

ImageI’ve found that over the past few months, I’ve really started to lose a lot of the brand royalty that I’ve previously had for Apple.  About four years ago, I gave into the temptation of a more productive user interface and the promise of an “environment” of products.  Those advantages were so great to me, I was willing to sacrifice things like absolute control and an abundance of gaming options in order to have them.

That was around 2008 when I made the switch and got rid of my old mini-fridge sized PC tower.  I’d used Macs for years, all the way back to playing Carmen Sandiego and Oregon Trail back in elementary school, but only used on full time starting then.  Of course, this led to other things like iPod Touches, iPads, iPhones, and all of the accompanying and encompassing software that tied them all digitally together.

But then a few months ago, I crossed the rubicon.  The original iPad 1 that I’d used for years was beginning to give up the ghost, and I was too trained into using a tablet for everyday tasks to just do away with the habit.  After mentioning for a while that I was interested in it, my wife gave me a Nexus 7 for Christmas.  It’s a purchase decision and philosophy switch that I probably wouldn’t have made on my own, but I’m glad she made it for me.  Now I haven’t even looked back.

There’s no one thing about Android or the Google environment that I can point to that I enjoy more, and similarly there’s no one thing about Apple that I cite as driving me away. Instead, it’s a wide swath of factors.  Apple’s over-reliance and misunderstanding of the evolving Cloud paradigm is troublesome, while Google’s complete ownership of that area is something that’s so good, I forget that it exists and take it wildly for granted.  And while it’s cliched to say it at this point, Apple’s closed shop nature is something that just seems so incredibly archaic and ancient at this point as opposed to the openness and hackability of Android devices or Google services.  Perhaps running a Super Nintendo emulator on my Nexus isn’t the best example, but I could never go back to an iOS device now without something that cool.

Is that to say that Apple has lost their cool factor?  Maybe.  OSX is no longer the novelty that it once was, and instead feels like a common utility or appliance in the same way that Windows 98 once was.  iOS has also become something that feels like big clunky Duplo blocks in comparison to the complex Legos of Android.  There’s a place for it, but only for a certain demographic or select place on a smaller shelf.

I hesitate to use the fanboy term in either context here, as I’m still a fan of whatever innovative thing that both Google or Apple come up with.  However, lately, I confess to finding more usefulness and delight at what Google has been up to.  Stuff like Google Glass may be a pipedream better reserved for the likes of Tony Stark, but the fact that Google is trying something so ambitiously ridiculous in the face of Apple’s slowly iterative process certainly makes me pay far more attention to them these days.


Feature Request: The Netflix Channel

netflix-sees-swarm-of-returning-users-video--ee8efa4b31For over a year now, we’ve gone without having a cable or satellite subscription at our house.  I don’t miss it at all.  In fact, spending over $60 a month for something that shows ads half of the time seems antiquated enough already.  That, plus it makes absolutely no sense to pay that much a month when you’re only watching a few channels anyways.  For me, there would be only a few channels I’d watch regularly anyways.  AMC, Discovery Channel, TBS, ESPN, maybe a few others, and that’s about it.

The one thing that I do miss about having a subscription is the ease of just turning on one of my favorite channels and knowing that a lot of episodes of my favorite shows will be on for as long as I’d like.  The way that Netflix lets you handpick episodes of shows and movies is great, but I’d still like to see it become that kind of experience where I know I can just easily leave it on throughout the day.  Subscription services still allow for that, but I do think that Netflix could easily do it in two different ways.

1. Netflix Playlists – I’ve advocated for this for a while, and I’m still not so sure why Netflix hasn’t done it yet.  In this option, you could make a playlist of your favorites, either by show or by individual episodes.  Maybe even by movie if you’re planning a marathon.  Make a list once, hit play, and Netflix will go through the entire list.

2. Netflix Shuffle – This would be somewhat like a playlist, but would mix up episodes of your favorite TV shows.  It would be great if you could just tell Netflix that a specific list of a dozen or so shows are your favorite then just have a Netflix “channel” that plays random progressive lists of those shows.  For example, lets say that I’ve added Star Trek: The Next Generation and King of the Hill.  It would play the current episode of each of those in that order (or within a mix) and then play the next episodes once they’re both finished.

The only realistic barrier that I can see that’s holding Netflix back from doing either of the above are bandwidth concerns on their end.  Though I’m not sure why Netflix would release a feature that automatically plays next episodes if it was a big one.

I’m submitting this post to all of the public feedback channels that Netflix typically interacts with customers on.  If you’d like to see these features on their service, I’d appreciate your thoughts and your help in making this request of them too.


Taking Alabama News Online

Today, many of Alabama’s largest print newspapers are shutting down their presses and not printing a Monday or even a Tuesday paper.  The Birmingham News, The Huntsville Times and the Mobile Press-Register aren’t being delivered to anyone’s homes this morning because their parent company, Alabama Media Group have made the collective decision for them to prioritize online distribution as opposed to putting yesterday’s news on dead trees.  They are now only printing three times a week and are instead putting their day to day reporting on the AL.com mothership that encompasses all three papers.

In theory, I think this is a fantastic idea.  Print media simply can not keep up with the real time nature that online journalism provides.  Reporting the news as it happens has much more value than delivering it in the morning the next day without any interactivity.  But I’m not so sure that Alabama Media Group is playing it right.  I think the paper in my current town, The Huntsville Times, is home to fantastic reporting and genuinely great and friendly people.  But I fear that the “from the top” decisions that have been made for them could devalue what they’ve spent a long time building.

Here are some of the problems I see with the transition:

Hyperlocal: I talked about this early on in the year, and I still hold the claims that I made in that post.  To summarize if you don’t want to go through that, hyperlocalization is the concept of journalism at a microscopically local level.  It drills news down to a neighborhood basis that reports what is directly relevant to someone in their specific area. Now that our Alabama newspapers have focused their attention online, it should be much easier for them to do this.  On the first day of the transition, I was disappointed to see that AL.com has no feature that intuitively allows this from their home page.  You can select a town like Birmingham or Huntsville, but this does little to really make that reporting uniquely and directly relevant.

What I would like to have seen is something that lets me get only the local news from my small neighboring towns like Harvest or Monrovia. The customization allowed for by an online platform should make this easier, but it hasn’t happened yet.  Here’s hoping this is in the cards for the future.

Interactivity: First, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.  AL.com is home to some of the most racist, vile, disgusting, and offensive comments available anywhere online.  Shifting focus online means that the people behind these comments have more of a spotlight.  There’s no way to spin it, this is a terrible thing.  I’ve noticed that moderation has become better, but anytime there is a controversial topic in the news, the rats come crawling.

Aside from that, interactivity has to be implemented better.  Now that reporters are more than just a name in the dateline, I would really like to see them become more active in comments and in social media.  They also have to stop thinking of journalism as a “we speak, you listen” affair.  By nature of being online, it’s now an ongoing conversation.  Journalists have to think of themselves as much more than writers, they have to be media personalities that audiences can identify as authoritative in their beats.  There are some Huntsville Times and AL.com writers who have done this well, but it doesn’t appear to be a standard of any sort.

Education: This morning, I was surprised to find that some sort of paper was delivered to my house.  But it wasn’t a paper, it was a large guide instructing people how to use the digital functionality provided by Alabama Media Group.  The first problem is that you have to explain it.  Yes, it’s true that not printing a paper and going online is a huge change and it takes a while to get people to warm up to that.  But you shouldn’t have to put a large guide in their hands that shows them what to do and how to do it once you’ve made that switch.  It should be intuitive and feel like second nature, not like you have to go through a seminar to know what’s available or how to use it.

Apps: All Alabama Media Group papers have recently released apps for Android and iPhone, but unfortunately they aren’t good.  Below is the App Store rating for the main app as of the morning of the big switch on October 1st:

That’s not going to cut it.  Many reviews complain that the app continually crashes and has severe user interface problems.  Apps are currently the economy of mass digital communication, and it doesn’t appear that Alabama Media Group is ready to play there yet.  Sure, you can give it a great PR spin and say things like “we’re learning” or “we know there’s work to do,” but the app has been available and regularly reworked for almost a year now.  You can’t learn for that long and expect to survive in an area in which other news providers have great platforms already out there.

Additionally, if you look at the front page of AL.com, there’s no way to even know that an app is available at first glance.  There are some small links in the footer, but no App Store or Android buttons advertising their availability.  This is typically common now, so I’m unsure why this wasn’t a high priority on day one.

Neglect of Rural Alabama: Perhaps I’m a little biased because I’m from Small Town Alabama, but this is still the most egregious offense to me.  Much of Alabama still does not have reliable broadband access.  And also, owning a tablet or smartphone is not an economic option for many of the people still in Rural Alabama.  These aren’t just elderly and retired citizens, but also those that are socio-economically disadvantaged.  If you haven’t ever been more than a half hour drive from the bubble of a metro area in Alabama, do it and you’ll quickly see what I’m talking about.

The online shift takes many of these people out of the equation.  They don’t have reliable access, many not even have a device to access anything with, and likely relied on a daily printed paper as one of the few sources of information to the outside world.  Perhaps this isn’t a viable market for those within Alabama Media Group anymore, and they decided to cut their losses.  If so, it opens up a market for localized papers that hopefully can fill the hyperlocal void that hasn’t yet been filled.

In summary, I do think that the individual papers within Alabama Media Group are doing a fantastic job.  In my media market in North Alabama, I think we’re spoiled with the hard working and well connected people at The Huntsville Times.  The new challenges I partially listed are at their feet, but weren’t laid out by them.  Instead, it’s Alabama Media Group who are creating challenges for themselves.  I do really applaud them for making a bold and forward thinking move, however I don’t think they’ve gotten off on the right foot.

Alabama is home to the best storytellers in the world.  Regardless of the platform, this will always be true.  I’m really excited that our newspapers are now doing it in an area that allows for much more, and I hope  Alabama Media Group strengthens and tightens their focus in order to take advantage of it.


The (Incomplete) Avengers

By the time you read this, I think it’s safe to assume that everyone has already seen The Avengers by now.  If you’re looking for hyperbole about how awesome it was, you should find no shortage of links this week for that.  Instead, I wanted to hopefully getting the ball rolling in convincing Marvel to solve what is going to potentially be the biggest problem for them in the next phase of their movie franchise, the fact that they don’t have full control over their most popular characters.

While trolling around message boards and sites like Reddit this weekend, I’ve noticed a lot of casual fans asking questions about how the Spider-man or X-Men films can intertwine with the set of characters featured in The Avengers.  The simple answer is always that they can’t.  While hovering dangerously above bankruptcy in the 90′s, Marvel had to raise money by selling the film rights to some of their most popular characters like Wolverine and Spider-man.  The X-Men and all mutant properties went to Fox, and Spider-man went to Sony.  Marvel controls those characters in all other mediums, but not on film.  Therefore, they can’t appear within the Marvel film universe.  It took extensive talks and deals just to be able to get The Hulk to appear in it.

But a lot can change in a decade and change.  Now, Marvel is a multimedia powerhouse that’s owned and backed by Disney.  I’ve gone on record to say that the marriage between Marvel and Disney wasn’t one I initially agreed with, but there’s a chance it could finally pay off now.  Now that The Avengers made ridiculous money on its opening weekend, Marvel and Disney now practically have a license to print money with the franchise.  With that cash on hand, perhaps it’s time that both parties invested in themselves and brought their most bankable characters home.

It won’t be cheap.  Spider-man is a cash cow for Sony, and Fox doesn’t seem intent to let the X-men go anytime soon.  But now that The Avengers has increased it’s own lifespan by a ridiculous amount, the series has to move forward somehow.  The best way to do that is by adding to the character drama by bringing in geeky Peter Parker to deal with Tony Stark’s ego for example.  Or by seeing how Wolverine would respond to similarly old fashioned Steve Rogers.  As much as I loved The Avengers, it felt extremely handcuffed to me.  The climatic set piece happens in New York City, with buildings being destroyed and civillians in danger.  I hate having to partake in the charade of pretending that Spider-man wouldn’t be involved in that in some way.  Bringing him in wouldn’t even necessarily require a reboot of those characters.  Buying the rights would also mean bringing in the services of Hugh Jackman or Andrew Garfield to share the screen along with Downey, Evans, and Hemsworth.

You can of course bring in a bigger baddie to wreck havoc for our heroes, but the greatest contribution of Joss Wheadon to the Marvel universe was that the focus is on the interaction and dynamic between the characters, not necessarily the good vs. evil challenges that they face.  That’s what should build in the continuation of the franchise, and the best way of doing that is by bringing in the most popular and most identifiable characters like Wolverine and Spider-man.

So let’s do it, Marvel and Disney.  We all know how deep your pocketbooks really are now, invest in yourself and retcon your movie rights.


SXSW 2012 Review

For the second year in a row, I was lucky enough to attend South by Southwest in Austin Texas.  Just like last year, I wanted to review my adventures there and take notes on some of the coolest things I heard while I was there.  Below are some of my summaries and notes of the conference this year, followed by some general details and observations from my time in Austin this year.

Panels

Learn to Code and Make the Software You Want

I knew ahead of time that this was the panel that I stood to learn the most from.  The speakers at this session were formerly the “idea guys” behind their respective start ups.  They spoke about how they found out early on that they’d need to learn to code in order to make their ideas for products a reality.  They had great suggestions for a crash course on learning coding, including a weeklong cram session.  They said that the first few days, you would still have no idea what you’re doing, but by the end of the last day you would have a grasp enough to be confident in your work.

They also had great suggestions for learning platforms, including sites like railstutorial.com and railscasts.com.

Google: Why Didn’t I Think of That

This was actually an unofficial panel held off campus at one of the houses that Google had rented out for the week.  In addition to the best breakfast I’ve had in a long time, they also put together a fantastic panel where investors and developers talked about the best products they had seen launch at SXSW.  The consensus was definately that Highlight was the winner of the conference, but they also brought into question why that was.  If it weren’t for the high usage rate that Highlight found at SXSW, it was entirely possible that it was only talked about so much because sites like Mashable and TechCrunch said so.

I was also very impressed with how Google used the Hangout feature of Google+ to facilitate this panel.  They had four panelists live on the patio it was held, but also brought in four others via their Hangout software.  Hangout still looks like a beta product, but this was the best use case I’ve seen of it so far.  I think there’s a ton of potential in putting it into more use in the classroom and in other settings at UAHuntsville where I work.

Design, Build, Transform

This was probably the most inspirational session that I sat in on.  The speaker at this session had designed a mobile classroom initiative called “Project H.”  This one really hit home with me because the rural southern town that she brought it to reminded me so much of my hometown in Franklin County, Alabama.  She uses the web as an inspirational tool to have low income and underprivileged middle school kids come up with their own designs for chicken coops.

They were able to spark their own creativity, but it was also the best use case for why it’s imperative for rural areas like this to have equal and fair broadband web access.  Her solution was to bring about the results so that lawmakers could see the benefits of that web access before they spent the first dime on it.

Social Media for Nonprofits

This was probably the most applicable panel that I went to over the whole conference.  The speakers of this session had recently written a book detailing some of the best methods for encouraging community engagement for non-profits through social media, and they had an excellent summary of some of the best ideas in this session.

One of the best ideas they mentioned was that of holding more meet ups with the people you’ve already engaged online.  Online interaction is great, but can quickly fade and become lost in the crowd unless you’re able to meet people and put faces and voices with names.  Other ideas included creating what they called a “listening board.”  The way they showed how to do this was by creating an iGoogle page that included applets and RSS feeds from all of the social networks that focused on mentions and things like Google Alerts.  In this way, it’s easy to become very time efficient and effective in keeping on top of the conversation surrounding your organisation.  Another tip I wouldn’t have thought of was using Pinterest as an interest board.  Using it to showcase items you would like to add to a public collection can be a great way to solicit donations for a non-profit.

Evolution of the New York Times

This panel hit on some of my personal interests, but I was also interested in hearing it in the context of how I post university news stories online.  The editor of the Times talked about how social really is the new newspaper of the web, to the extent that the New York Times has a policy to break news on Twitter fist.  They’re still formulating that, as they don’t have a policy on whether or not a tweet breaking news should have a link to the full story or not.  There was a lot to get out of this panel, but it made me recognize more and more that users and the public that we connect with will look to social outlets first before looking to more traditional news sources when something breaks.

Other Fun and the Trade Show

I also hit up a few panels for fun, the most noteworthy of which was one of Kevin Smith’s Q&A’s.  Say what you want about him and his movies, but he’s a master storyteller and can captivate audiences with tales of even the most mundane details of his life.

On Sunday afternoon, I also attended the SXSW Screenburn show.  This was unlike anything else at the conference.  It’s a video game showcase that I attended in hopes of making a lot of new connections for the UAH LAN Party that we hold twice a year.  I’m glad to report that I hit a grand slam in this area, making awesome connections with companies like Intel and Alienware.  Our gaming community has grown tremendously in the past year, it was extremely gratifying to hear some of the top companies in this industry get excited about what we’re doing.

Also while I was at SXSW, I got to see the trade show.  I didn’t get to do this last year, and I really felt like I missed out.  It turns out, I did.  The trade show was immensely vast, with tons of different companies and organisations showcasing.  I was able to meet people from a film co-operative in Oklahoma, to music promoters in Memphis, the creators of WordPress, the editor of Make Magazine, and a few other universities.  I still have a pile of business cards I’m working on replying to.

The Hot App of SXSW 2012

Clearly, the winner this year is Highlight.  Last year, group messaging seemed to be all the rage, but I could never quite understand the hype.  This time around, Highlight was a uniquely wonderful discovery.  I was able to make a ton of connections just by nature of being physically close to someone.

Proximity based apps like this are exciting because you’re able to actually make a real life connection with someone by letting the software do the work of matching you with someone that you share interests with.  I was able to meet people at other universities and people working in video games just because we were all using Highlight.  Since I’ve returned home, I’ve only been able to match up with one person in Alabama, but I’m really excited to see this app catch on and gain traction.

I was also really impressed with a web app that Google was showcasing called Schemer.  This is a great way to make plans with your peers, and I think that it could be really useful on college campuses as sort of an “inverse Foursquare” if that makes any sense.

The rain tried to really put a damper on things in the first few days of SXSW this year, but things really kicked into gear late Saturday.  By that time, everyone was back out on the closed streets and the air in Austin started to smell of BBQ again.  In the same way that the weather improved, the quality of the panels got significantly better this year.  Not only that, but the trade show and an insanely great killer app made this an even better SXSW for me than last year.  These things are always a big productivity boost for me, as I’m so pumped to help people connect and build better things when I get home.

Here’s looking forward to SXSW 2013!


Managing Online Discussion About Hot Topics

First of all, I shouldn’t have to tell you what SOPA / PIPA is.  If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that you’ve followed a link of mine to this post from a social network.  Which means you should hate what that legislation is trying to do.  Anything I would be telling you about it would be choir preaching.  Instead, I urge you to use your circle of influence and urge your friends and family to call upon your local lawmaker.

Now that we have that out of the way, I wanted to talk briefly about approaching these kind of hot topics when you’re managing a social media voice for a public figure or entity.  I don’t advocate taking a side unless it’s something that everyone views as morally or ethically terrible.  Even then, it’s tough to maintain a sense of neutrality.  In virtually all cases, it’s best to just present positive messages and stay away from anything that could possibly be polarizing.

However, this morning I posted this image to the UAH Facebook Fan Page:

Image

I obviously have my own opinions about SOPA / PIPA, but I wanted to showcase the creativity of our students as well as promote the fact that UAH welcomes our students to express themselves (in a mature manner) through this outlet on campus.  I didn’t want to get involved in the debate, and would leave that to students, friends, and alumni in the comments.  The hands off approach was the only logical one here.

A few hours later, this happened:

Image

Posts on our fan page have always gotten light interaction, never to this sort of level.  The likes here are great, but what’s fantastic is the number of shares.  Many of those 78 shares also had shares of their own, creating a domino effect.  The views of that image have increased exponentially over just a few hours, showcasing the involvement and creativity of our students at a lightning pace.

It also generated a ton of discussion:

Image

The SOPA / PIPA debate isn’t really a “debate,” as nearly all informed individuals have the same stance.  Of course though, there is some off topic discussion and a light level of negativity and sarcasm.  In this context, it’s just to be expected.  Undergrad students are finding their voice, and usually have a loud one.  The more mature students tend to police their own, which is another reason the hands off approach is the right one here.

Any discussion is positive in this case.  It’s getting students and others involved with the university connecting, and it’s showing that potential students have an opportunity to become involved, express their opinion, and join these discussions.  Plus, it shows what an awesome “geeky” and technologically aware student body we have.

Many educators I’ve spoken with over the years love that moment when they see students “get it” and find themselves in a world of possibility.  I find tremendous value in that as well, but love moments like what you see above just as much.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.